Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The peace of the Lord

Evening, Lord. 

The other day I had the sort of day where everything goes wrong. It was a depressing day full of illness and poor communication and disappointments and plans falling through. Full of tension and doubt and anxiety and self pity.

The surprising thing was that at the end of this very long day, when I finally slithered down under the duvet and reached for the lamp to put out the bedside light, the word in my head was 'Peace'.

That was your doing. 

Who else? The Prince of Peace.

I can't explain it; there wasn't a formula for why the day ended on an unexpected positive. All I can say is thank you. 

I had choices to make that day and I agonised about them and I tried to do what you would want me to do rather than take the line of least resistance as I so often do. It didn't turn out well but I wonder if you blessed me for trying. I wasn't feeling well and didn't have anything left in reserve for a night spent ill-at-ease with my husband, with myself, with you - so perhaps you took pity on me and touched me with peace. The following day, as it turned out, was a pretty poorly day as well so maybe you were preparing me with a good night's sleep. 

I don't know. All I know is that sometimes, out of the blue, I feel you so close that I could touch you and simply the fragrance of you is enough to fill me with peace.

I mean, I really went to sleep with the word, 'Peace' on my mind. It made me smile. I didn't spend an age getting to sleep as I usually do and I slept well. Bryan and I both woke in the night at one point and agreed that we both were feeling a bit better. The children didn't shout until morning. It was indeed a peace that passes understanding. 

I'd been reflecting, as I sat with a coffee at bedtime, that lately I have been focusing too much on everything that I do wrong, everything that I mess up, all the stuff that I wish were different and spend so much time dwelling on. It struck me that you died to free me from all this stuff; you didn't do all that you did for me to spend my life picking over the debris, downcast and discouraged. You died to make me free. 

To forgive me all the rubbish. All that I have done, that I do, and that I will do. You died for the sins I haven't even committed yet. You did it once, and for all. You took care of it. Yes, I get things wrong. Yes, I often choose the wrong thing. Yes, I fail in many and varied ways. I am selfish and critical and unloving and I worry and get angry and I interrupt - but I am forgiven. It doesn't mean that I don't need to make changes in my life and I know that sometimes it doesn't hurt to become aware of the scale of my need for forgiveness, but I need to remember that it is finished, as well. 

There's no point in sitting down by the side of the pile of rubbish and wrongs and broken things and examining it from every angle day in, day out, absorbed in the landfill, never looking up. 

If the pass mark for an exam is 100%, and I get 25%, I fail just the same way that I would fail with 99% or nothing at all. It doesn't matter. Since you are holiness itself and you cannot allow anyone less than holy into your presence, then Heaven would have been a pretty lonely place without Jesus, who came to make us holy. Because of him I am clean and shiny and new. I am able to come to you because of him. It is a done deal.

For me it's desperately discouraging that it takes me so long to learn a lesson and change the way I think and speak and act, but my striving is a response to you, not an attempt to earn my ticket to the party. I won't become any more righteous, any more deserving, the longer I live, or the harder I try, or the more I beat myself up about failing.  There aren't even degrees of righteousness - I either am or I'm not, and there is only One who is - that's you. 

And you loved me enough to forgive me. So that I could be with you. At immense cost to yourself, you made me whole. Made me new.

The peace came to me because I realised that you love me. Now. Even the way I am. I need to stop poking the wounds with a stick and let them heal. There will, no doubt, be plenty more. I need to get up and dust myself down again and carry on walking, and I'll need to do this today and again tomorrow and again the next day but you have said that you will never leave me or forsake me and you will always offer me your hand when I stumble and need help back to my feet. 

I need to leave the pile of trouble and rubbish at the foot of the cross, with all the others, and walk away. You tell me that I don't need to carry it all about with me. 

I am forgiven. I am loved. You made me free and yet I keep carrying this weight around with me instead of leaving it behind and walking with a lighter step. You don't want me to drag it round with me.

Peace. The peace of knowing that it won't always be a struggle. It won't always be confusing and unsettling. The fight won't last forever. 

The peace of knowing that the one who truly knows me, good and bad, inside and out, the past and the future, you love me right now, today, despite everything. 

'...and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.'
Philippians 4:7

Amen. 

Thankyou.







 




Saturday, 25 February 2012

Made to praise you


God, I'm not having a good day.

I don't feel very positive.

I don't feel very much like talking to you, if I'm honest, and I certainly don't feel full of praise. I feel like moaning on about how bad I perceive things to be, how miserable I am, how hard life is. I think I could go on about this at length, and, as you know, I have form in this area. I'm quite good at it. This is what I feel like doing right now.

So I'm not going to. 

I am going to praise you because you are my God and deserving of praise. You died for me; making the effort to praise you when I don't feel like it is a small thing to do. 

Psalm 145

'I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.'

Lord God, who made the sun that's shining on the side of my head as I'm talking to you now, I want to praise your holy name. You are the only God, King of Kings. I don't offer you my worship because you need it or because it is required of me - it's because I was made to worship you. 

'Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.'

Every day. Whether I feel like it or not. 

'Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
His greatness no-one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.'

You are great indeed. Great seems to be an over-used word in our culture where a nice meal is 'great' and pop stars from twenty years ago are known as 'The Greats'.  Your greatness is different altogether, Father. Yours is a greatness that no-one can fathom; it is beyond us. You are above all things. You have done mighty things; never made a mistake. You are eternal and everlasting and unchanging and I want to tell my daughters how wonderful you are. I want them to know what I know and grow and grow.  

'They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty - 
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works - 
and I will proclaim your great deeds.'

I only have to look around me to see the glorious splendour of you. It's late February and although cold weather might well return for a few more weeks at the moment the sun is out, the sky is blue and there's a freshness that makes me think that Spring is coming. The sun is shining into the room I'm in and the dust motes are dancing in the shaft of light. Outside the window is a bed of snowdrops and a couple of crocuses with delicate purple veined petals are just opening up. Beauty.

I'm looking at my two daughters as they laugh together (is primary school toilet humour a topic for praise, Lord? I find it a bit wearying after a while I must confess and I'm eagerly awaiting the day when they grow out of it...Anything you can do about that?) but I digress. My girls are so beautiful, so innocent, so full of life and enthusiasm. They learn so fast, they smile so readily. They're unselfconscious and extravagant and full of love. What a breathtaking act of delegation is parenthood? What a miracle that two people can create such wonders. I see Bryan in Katy's smile and in Lizzie's physique. I see my own father in the girls' dimples and the way Kate lifts her eyebrows sometimes.  I see myself as a child in Elizabeth's school photos. I look at my girls and I see you.

Your works are indeed wonderful. 

'They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.'

I need to do more celebrating and less commiserating. I am surrounded by beauty and wonder and miracles and gifts and blessings. I will sing of your goodness and your righteousness. Lord God help me to open my heart to the joy that comes from praising you. You are good to me. I'm sorry for all the times that I take your abundant goodness for granted and choose instead to focus on the negatives.

'The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
He has compassion on all he has made.'

I know that you will forgive me because it is your nature to forgive. I know that you are gracious and full of compassion. I know that you are slow to get angry. Not like me; I flare up all too easily. I am often on a short fuse and my irritability knows no bounds. Thankyou that you are not like me. Help me to be more like you. 

You are good to me. Thankyou for your kindness and unfailing compassion. Thankyou that no matter what I've done, how I'm feeling, I know that because you are full of grace and kindness I can come to you without fear of being turned away or consumed and destroyed by your holiness. Thankyou that no matter how many times I mess things up, I can still turn around and see your arms open for me to return to. 

'All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.'

Amen. I am your creation, your work - and I lift my eyes and my hands and praise you, glorious Lord. I stand in the ranks of your children and I praise you. I lift you high. You are the Lord. 

'Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.'

You are unchanging. Your kingdom will never be destroyed. It will last forever; beyond anything this world can offer and beyond our imaginations. You will never be defeated. You are the same God who spoke to Moses, to Abraham, to David, to John and to Peter. You are the Lord who showed his hands and side to Thomas. You are the God who inspired the great churchmen of the ages and you are my God too. You are the God who walks beside me in my small, imperfect journey through life. 

I love you.

You keep your promises. You never change your mind, or change the goalposts. It is as you say. I can trust you absolutely with the big things and with the little things of my life. You are faithful. Praise you, Lord God, creator of the world. Thankyou for loving me.

'The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.'

Amen.  I know that this is true. I have been weary and I have leaned on you. I have fallen and you have gently helped me to my feet again. You have lifted my head when I have been weighed down with selfish troubles and you are always there for me. You know what I need and when I need it and if I only trust you then I will never be without. Help me to trust you for the things that I need and not run after so many things that mean nothing at all. 

The other morning I lay in bed and listened to the song of a blackbird outside the window. It occurred to me that the bird was doing what it was made to do. It was singing because it was a blackbird and that is what blackbirds do. It wasn't worried (to the best of my knowledge) about where the next worm was to be found, or whether the next door's cat might one day get too close for comfort; it just sang in praise of the living God that made it. 

If I, too, am made to praise, what would it be like if I did wholeheartedly what I am made to do? What a perfect sound could I make? How pleasing it would be to you, Lord God, if I could lay aside everything superfluous and sinful and simply live to praise you? 

'The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.'

Yes, Lord, I know that you are near. I know this because you have said that you will be with me always, and you are righteous and faithful. I know that you will never let me down. I know that you are near even when I don't feel you - I know because earlier on this morning I felt as if you were a million miles away and now I know that you were there all the time. You don't move. You don't walk away when I offend you. 

I call on you, Lord God. I cannot hide anything from you. I lay before you all that I am, all the bits I'd rather stuff into a dark corner as well as the bits that I quite like. I am who I am - you know because you made me. You know what stage I'm at in my journey towards you. Here I am. 

Hold me close by your side. I want to stay there, I really do; it's just that I can't seem to do what I want to do. I keep wandering off. I keep getting distracted by other things. My eye is caught by something and suddenly I realise that I have strayed off the path. Thankyou that you are always there to guide me back. Lord, thank you for your love and faithfulness. 

'My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.'

Amen and amen. 

I believe that there will come a day when the whole of creation past, present and future will praise you, Father God. Everybody will see your glory and will worship you. There will be no-one who denies that you are who you are. It won't be possible. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that you are the Lord. 

I'm looking forward to that day. 

Thankyou, God. 

I feel better. 











Friday, 24 February 2012

It won't always be dark at six

So how is my Lent going?

Is that you asking, Lord?  Why would you ask if you already know?

I am sort of blurred at the moment. 

Can't concentrate on anything. 

Including you. 

Going to stop writing in staccato sentences now.

I'm not feeling well. My cold has turned into a cough which has turned into a chest infection which saw me trudge up to the doctor this morning in defeat; with a following wind I should be on the mend tomorrow thanks to some little green pills. Part of me wants to assure you that my Lent will go better when I'm better.

But I'm thinking that this time last year you allowed me to be slowed to a stop as well. (You sat down next to me) Last year I stabbed myself in the eye with a document wallet (I know, I know, it still makes you smile) and the week was going to be so busy... I learned then that the world keeps turning without me and then again, this week, I've had to get off for a while again and strangely enough, life goes on. I can't help thinking that the one-eyed me this time a year ago might have made better of the hiatus in the speed of life than the coughing and complaining me this time around. 

But everything has been cancelled. I haven't even shopped so the meals are getting a little bit eccentric and freezer driven. Or they would be if it were not for my Mum, who once again (and again, and again) has been wonderful. I am sure that I'm more trouble to my mother now, as a forty-one year old with husband and children than ever I was as a teenager when I was supposed to be a hassle. 

I have read two and a half books and I have slept a lot. I have cried with self-pity and I have coughed until my ribs feel as if they've been run over (hence the self-pity). Have I spent more time with you in all this time when I couldn't do anything else? Well...

It's been unseasonably mild outside.

I think I just changed the subject.

Yesterday I went out in the garden for ten minutes and I saw three purple crocuses. A host of snowdrops. The weather has been mild and sunny and for a little while there I started thinking about when to clean out the greenhouse, what I would plant and where. I walked around and noticed which plants have (so far) survived the winter and which I never got around to pruning last autumn. The children came and went crazy in the sun for a little while. They got muddy and they swung on the swings and they kicked around a football. I sat with a couple of fleeces on huddled round a mug of tea and it was lovely. 

Spring isn't here yet but I can see it coming. I'm waiting for the daffodils. I love daffodils. When the daffs come I know that Spring is here. Soon, please. 

Of course, it's February and this is the England and so the chances are we'll have four feet of snow in the next week. Indeed, a frost is forecast for tonight. Good job I didn't take the fleece off the yucca.

Today I read a story about being happy. About choosing happiness. About not waiting for happiness to happen but to decide to be happy. It lifted my spirits momentarily until something happened to squash them again. I need to seize those moments and bury my nose in them. Close my eyes and ears to everything else that is going on around and immerse myself in a moment that is purely of you. I'm finding that it's hard to do right now.

The doctor told me today that the antibiotics will start to make a difference in about 24-48 hours but I might not be better for a couple of weeks. He told me to give myself time to get over the chest infection; to be gentle with myself. I think I am already too gentle with myself - I let myself off too many hooks. Things that are difficult I tend to shy away from. 

Like choosing happiness. Just for a moment there I pick happiness up and then something crashes into me and knocks me off balance and instead of clinging tight to the happiness in my hand it my fingers open reflexively and I drop it. And it's gone.

Too often I take the line of least resistance.

Sigh.

I'm feeling a bit rough and not thinking straight. I'm finding my promise to find the positive in every day a bit of a challenge at the moment. 
  • My little girls gave me cuddles today.
  • My Mum changed an appointment so that she can take Katy to her swimming lesson tomorrow so I don't have to get up early.
  • My husband brought me a mug of tea in bed. 
  • Every day this week I've had a text message from a friend asking how I am and saying that she's thinking about me.
  • My Mum bought me freesia. My favourite flowers.
Thankyou for all those things and doctors and chemists and comfy beds and sleep. Thankyou that I'm not seriously ill and that you are a God of second chances.

Thankyou that the nights are getting lighter. As my Mum says, 'It won't always be dark at six'.

I'm holding onto that at the moment.

It won't always be dark at six.






Thursday, 23 February 2012

Good intentions

I'm running late, Lord.

A day or two behind schedule. I've been ill and I'm not keeping up very well. 

But here I am. 

Shrove Tuesday this year was a bit of an effort, if the truth be known.  The children wanted pancakes (because it's Pancake Day, not because they particularly like them) and I was keen to do the talk about why Pancake Day and Ash Wednesday and what Lent is all about, not that I do it particularly well, I think).  So I ate paracetamol and ibuprofen and cough medicine and inhaled menthol and decongestant sniffy things and there I was with my frying pan and milk and flour and a box of eggs. 

I love making pancakes. I'm sure that's part of my motivation too, but it's not as noble as the one I mentioned first. Both are true. 

I love the way that the pan has to be so hot - almost smoking; and then I love the noise that the batter makes as it sizzles into the pan. I love the twisty turny manoeuvre that you have to do with your wrist tilting the pan to make the small, thick puddle of batter spread out into a large, thin one, while keeping it's shape. I love the way the edges rise slightly to let you into the secret that it's time to flip and I love the delight on the children's faces as it lands again. I love that one side is swirly and the other is spotty. I love that the best filling is lemon and sugar despite everyone's attempts to make it more sophisticated. 

Miraculously, I had lemons, even though I haven't been shopping for days. 

So we ate our pancakes (or played with them) and we talked about Lent and I did my best to explain but I suspect not much of it penetrated the minds of a six and four-year-old who were intrigued with the proximity of Easter. 

The idea of giving something up for Lent certainly seemed to capture their imaginations, however. 

Elizabeth has decided (and persuaded Katy) that they are going to give up for Lent:
  • Chocolate, sweets and all food that has no nutritional value
  • Being mean to each other
  • Forgetting their manners
Forgive me if I'm a tad sceptical. 

Touched, but sceptical. 

I suspect that my daughters have bitten off more than they can chew. Don't you? In a manner which I hope was encouraging and appreciative and approving and nurturing I suggested that perhaps just one thing, one achievable thing, might be a better bet than three whopping resolutions,  but it fell on deaf ears. They were set. 

How much nicer was an Easter Egg going to taste if they had fasted from chocolate for the whole forty days? I agreed that it would indeed. 

And how much happier would they be if they were nice to each other instead of being mean and hurty?  Of course, how could I disagree?  

And how much happier would I be if they were polite and well-mannered for the next forty days?  Indeed. And less naggy. 

Their faces were alight with good intentions. At that moment they were ready to take on the world. How could I dissuade them? Should I have tried? 

So they are off. Ships in full sail. Rocks a-waiting just offshore.

I love them. Maybe some people's six and four-year-olds are more tuned into Lent and grasp the concept better than mine; I don't know. Perhaps I haven't been consistent in my explanations - or my modelling of appropriate Lenten behaviour - over the years. Still, I have to start somewhere. 

Nobody asked me what I was doing for Lent. 

I've had trouble deciding, to be honest. Last year I gave up Facebook for Lent and I rediscovered lots of time, some of which I gave back to you, didn't I? (Logging off for Lent) It was a humbling experience. I learned a lot. This year the same thing doesn't jump at me as it did last year when I knew from the moment someone suggested it that I had to give it a go. So I've been searching.

I've decided to do something, rather than not do something. I'm feeling poorly and vulnerable and not very brave so I wanted to make it small, achievable and meaningful. Something that I had an outside chance of managing. 

I'm going to write in my prayer diary every day. Each day I'm going to write something positive from that day. It might be a short thing - a list, or it might turn into a prayer. It's like half the Examen; the life-affirming half. For someone like me who tends to the negative, the pessimistic, it should be good for me. 

I am so poor at a regular prayer time that I toyed with saying that I would make sure I had a time with you every day, but I haven't really solved the problem of when and where to find peace each day with any sense of regularity or rhythm. I have resolved this so many times over the past year or so that I feared that it would simply be a meaningless echo until I find the thing that's missing (discipline? energy? insight?)  that means I can do it. So my aim got smaller and that's what I came up with.

I will visit my prayer diary each day and tell you what the best thing of the day has been. 

With your help, I will.  Without it, I'm incapable of even the little things.

I shall try to steer my girls away from the inevitable shipwreck and when it happens I shall preach never mind, let's try again (maybe just with the chocolate?). When my own personal shipwreck happens, I will climb back on the horse straight away (now there's a lovely mixed metaphor) and try again. 

I am emotionally and physically frail at the moment. I feel as if I'm not capable of much. 

Bless our little attempts, Father. Even those destined for failure. Hold my little girls close to you, please. Give me the words to be much better at telling them about you. 

As Lent starts, Lord God, give me your hand to lift me out of this place of ill health and inertia and claw my way up through the low cloud to a place where I can see a bit more clearly. 

I know from experience that when I manage to give you just a little, you give me so very much. Bless my attempt to open my hands this Lent, Lord. 

Prepare my heart for Easter. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

I give myself away


Hello, God.

I was wondering what to say. Whether to say nothing, or whether to draw to your attention (not that you'd have missed anything so momentous, ha ha) that this will be the two-hundredth time that I've sent you a little letter/prayer/bit of waffle while sitting here at this computer.

I have let it all out two hundred times, or will have when I've finished here today.

I have giggled and wondered and complained and sighed and grumbled and cried and even on occasion I've SHOUTED. I have come to you in every mood that I have experienced and you have always been here next to me. You've never told me that you're too tired to listen to me, or that I'm annoying you, or that I bore you. You've never been anything but supportive and interested and even if now and again I amuse you, I've always felt loved.

200
Made from smiley stones
from the beach
I know that this milestone doesn't mean anything to anyone but me, who wondered if I could stick at this writing thing. There's no reason why it should.

The thing is, I want to make sure that I don't wander too far from the path with this.

I want to make sure that I don't begin to think that this is mine, my thing. That I'm actually quite good at it, and wasn't that a good idea? And how nicely I put that. And that was quite a cool photograph, wasn't it? And all those sort of self-congratulatory things.

I want to say here at two hundred just as I said at one hundred, and when I first started out, that this is yours. I'm not quite sure how, but this is my little offering and I want to bring glory to you.

I know that you wanted me to do it.

I know that I can't do it without you. I know that I wouldn't experience a single moment's insight, or have a solitary idea without you. I know that it is only because of you that I can make sense of things that I read, or express myself to explore what it is that I think, or feel, or believe. I know that it's you that gives me the words and I have long understood that the reason that I quite often start out in one frame of mind while writing this and then finish feeling so completely different is because of you.

I know that you know me better than I know myself and I understand that my meanderings don't benefit you in any way and yet you are generous enough to bless me through them.  I have made new friends, I have learned from other people and I have learned so very much about myself. Better than any of that I have learned so much about you. I have grown enormously because of your hand on me as I sit here and tap tap away.

I wanted to say thank you but I wasn't sure how to say it and then in church on Sunday we sang this lovely lovely song that I haven't come across before. It says exactly what I wanted to say to you and it seems like a good song to sing to you right now.

I Give Myself Away - William McDowell

Here I am
Here I stand
Lord, my life is in your hands
Lord I'm longing to see
Your desires revealed in me
I give myself away


I give myself away
I give myself away
So you can use me
I give myself away
I give myself away
So you can use me.


Take my heart
Take my life
As a living sacrifice
All my dreams, all my plans
Lord I place them in your hands.


My life is not my own
To you I belong
I give myself, I give myself to you


I give myself away.

Lord God, thank you for all that you give me, all that you teach me, all that you are. Thankyou for the glimpses I see of you, the things you want to show me. I pray now that I might never be so wrapped up in words and ideas or too inward looking to gaze up at you.

I give you all my dreams and plans. The delicate, fragile hopes that don't often get brought out into the daylight; you know them. I lay them down in front of you, because they are yours already. You gave me my life, Lord, and I want to give it back to you. I give you all that I am, the good bits and the bad bits. The bits that I'm proud of and the bits that I'm ashamed of. If I wait until it's all clean and polished to a high shine than I'd wait forever. Also if I wait until I'm willingly surrendering every last bit of my life then I would still be hanging back when I breathe my last. You know the parts that are hard to let go of, Father, there are no surprises for you; you know what I'm like.

And you love me anyway.

You know what I hope for, what I long for, what I'm afraid of. You made me this way. I'm a work in progress. I know that I'm not finished yet, but I also know that you can use me just as I am. I don't have to attain heights of holiness to do something for you and that's why I can echo the words of this song - 'I'm longing to see your desires revealed in me.'

Lord, show me new things. Teach me to find you in everything. To see things as you would have me see them. To hear your voice in the commonplace and the extraordinary alike. To praise you, to show your glory to other people. If ever I'm starting to think that it's because of me, remind me who you are again. I want to be useful to you.

It's all for you, Father God.











Saturday, 18 February 2012

Who do I think you are?

Who are you, God? 

Who do I think you are? 

Reading Margaret Silf's book on prayer again (The Gift of Prayer: Embracing the spiritual in the everyday) and she makes a good point. 

Who do I think that I pray to? What is it that I think you're going to do? What do I expect of you? 

Who are you? 

Are we looking for a satisfier of our shopping list requests?
Are we looking for a fireman to rescue us from 
an emergency?
Are we looking for a parent figure to tell us what
to do next?

Yes, yes and yes. Sometimes someone who'll solve some problems for me in short order. Make people that I care about better. Make it so that we get home before my daughter is sick in the car. Help me get to sleep. Help me say the right thing in that conversation. 

Sometimes I want to shout for you and for you to come running, please. Like the Fireman. Or an ambulance blue-lighting me to hospital.  Or like Daddy when a small child wails with a grazed knee. 'Lord, something awful has happened! Lord, help me! Lord, I'm stuck! I'm afraid! I'm angry! It's an emergency. Need you now'.  I want you to scoop me up and make it better. Make it un-happen. 

And then I want my Father to sit down and listen to my dilemma with rapt attention and tell me what the best course of action might be. So that then I can go off in peace and do as I'm told without the responsibility of it. Without having to be the one who made the choice in case it's wrong. If I'm doing your will, it will be ok, won't it? So tell me what to do because I'm afraid of making mistakes, of getting it wrong. Of looking silly. Of doing the wrong thing. I don't want to use my brain, or try to work it out - I just want you to tell me. If you were to make it all clear, Lord, then the chances are that I wouldn't come running to you to put it right when it goes wrong, would I?  So easier all round in the long run. 

Do what I want you to do, when I want, will you? 

Do it quickly when it's an emergency. And I'll decide what constitutes an emergency, ok?

Tell me what to do next when I need to know. Of course, there are times when I already know, so if you could just incorporate what I think is best into your plan as well, we'll all be happy. Won't we?

How did Margaret Silf get in my head, then? How did she know that I think this way? Could it be that other people think this way?

Is God an operations manager 
who puts our plans into effect in the way we desire?

Oops. I think I just said pretty much exactly that, didn't I? Ahem. I didn't mean it quite like that...

Is God a policeman or a strict teacher,
always on the watch for us
to make a mistake
and lay ourselves open to punishment?
Clocking up our good and evil deeds
to decide whether we get through the entrance exam
for heaven?

Ah. Now this I can relate to. I know it's not right but sometimes I do find myself thinking that you're there to catch me out. That when I mess up it's a black mark against me and you won't forget. Even though I know that you not only forgive me but you have promised to remember my sins no more I still wonder if things happen to me that I deserve. Maybe it's payback time... maybe this is why this happened... what goes round comes round...

I am so glad that I keep coming back to your promise that if you wash us, if you cleanse us with your forgiveness, that we will be clean. Properly clean. Justified. Redeemed. Invited to approach you as friends. As your children. As heirs in the Kingdom of God. This doesn't sit well with the image of you as a nitpicking judge who is never satisfied with our behaviour. I know you better than that. 

Yet still I fall for it from time to time. Still the little insinuating voice of the other guy penetrates and I find myself wondering if I've blown it this time. If there's a way back. If I've offended you so properly this time that you won't listen to my prayers any more...

Or perhaps God is an employer,
who drains the last ounce of energy from us 
and demands our unpaid overtime
in our efforts to 'do God's will'?

Ha. This is the chasing my tail thing. The feeling that I'm a hamster on a wheel and I can't move fast enough for there is so much that needs doing; good things. Committees to be on, projects to help with. Things to volunteer for. Rotas, ideas, innovations. Arrangements to make. Commitments to make. 

I've learned this lesson. I'm sure that won't stop me needing to learn it again every so often but at least it's still familiar. I know that you don't want me to be so busybusybusy for church, for life, for you that I never get a chance to stop and think. Stop and pray. Stop and be. I know that I need to say 'no' once in a while. I'm getting much better at it, to be honest. If I get to the point when I should say 'yes' now and again, give me a prod, will you? 

Or is God the fixer,
who keeps us safe, 
solves our problems,
rearranges creation
too suit our needs?

Now I'm a bit confused. You are sort of like a fixer, aren't you? Is it wrong to ask you to keep me safe? When I have a problem I do come to you. Shouldn't I come to you? I'm not convinced about the rearranging creation bit, though I have to say that at times it might seem like a good idea to me. Bit like praying in a geography exam that Mt Everest might turn out to be in England because I chose b) rather than d). 

You know what I think? I think that maybe you are a tiny, tiny bit of all these misconceptions. You do keep me safe. You sometimes fix things. You sometimes ask me to push myself more than I want to. You sometimes call me to account and let me know that I've displeased you. You do guide me and rescue me and above all you hear every last prayer that I pray, whether it's misguided or childish or perfectly formed and theologically on the ball. 

To subscribe to any one of these misconceptions is to skew our view of you, I know. To believe that you are a policeman or a magician or a sticking plaster is to try to pin you down and make you small and understandable and to get it wrong. But hey, I'm human, aren't I? If I got a grasp of who you really are I guess it would blow my mind.

These are caricatures of course,
and yet, how easily, how subtly, we slip into
one or other of these false and damaging images of God.

One or other, or all, at some time or another...

Because we are human, this will always be so, to some extent.
But to recognise the limitations of our images of God
is an important step to going beyond them. 

Sometimes I get a glimpse of you, Lord. Sometimes I get a second's sense of how vast and brilliant you are. How brightly you shine. The beauty of you. But I'm not equipped to hold a thought like that. So I try to bring you down to my level. To ask you to do what I want you to do. 

I try to assert my independence even in prayer, don't I? 'Not my will be done, but yours...but if you could make your will a bit like mine that'd be great.'

Lord, forgive me when I behave as though you were something that diminishes your glory. Forgive me when I want you to be something other than you are; for anything else is inferior. My imagination can't create anything worthy of you. 

Teach me to pray again, Lord. Help me to take it apart and build it in the way you would want it built.





Continued... next day....

Well, thank you Lord for a little word in my ear this morning.

We sang this song in church today and I love that I heard you speak through this special lyrics.

You are For Me by Kari Jobe

So faithful, so constant and so true
So powerful in all you do
You fill me, you see me
You know my every move
You love for me to sing to you

So patient, so gracious, so merciful and true
So wonderful in all you do
You fill me, you see me
You know my every move
You love for me to sing to you


I know that you are for me, I know that you are for me
I know that you will never forsake me in my weakness
And I know that you have come now even if to write upon my heart
To remind me who you are.


Lord, yesterday I was asking who you were. I was exploring misconceptions that I fall for so often about you. I get it wrong. I make you into something less than you are. My image of you as my loving father gets all skewed and I get confused and scared and diminish you. I wanted to see you and hear you and understand something of what you're like and today you told me, 'alright then, this is me'.

Faithful, constant, true, powerful, fulfilling, all-knowing, all-seeing, loving. Patient, gracious, merciful, wonderful. The main thing that I need to remember, though, my loving Father who smiles when I sing to you with all my heart - I need to remember that you are for me. You are on my side. You will never turn your back on me, no matter how wrong I get it.

I know that you are for me.

And when I wonder, when I search, when I look for you, you lean down and write on my heart.

To remind me who you are.

Love you, Lord. Thankyou.


Friday, 17 February 2012

Fear and dismay

'So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.'

Isaiah 41:10

You tell me not to be afraid. God in heaven, Creator of the world, eternal Father, you bend down to me here in my little life and you whisper 'Don't be afraid.'  How then, can I worry and fear and fret about things?  And yet I do. When I read a verse like this and really read it; read it over to myself and emphasise different words each time, that's when I am taken aback at the enormity of it. 

'So do not fear, for I am with you'

Because you are near. You are here, you are near. I read something the other day and the author of the book at one point says, 'He is closer than you think.'  I can't get my head around it; I can't see you and I've never 'heard' you in an ear sort of way. I sometimes sense you, and I am sometimes overwhelmed by you, so I know that it's true, but how happy those people who saw you with their eyes, sat with you and shared a meal. 

How blessed to have drunk the wine that you made from jars of water. How happy to have danced with you at a wedding feast. Wow. What a thought! Suddenly I'm sitting here smiling because I can see you laughing and singing and enjoying yourself at that wedding in Cana. Feeling for the hosts when the wine ran out, doing as your mother asks and making more simply so that the party would go on. That people would have fun at a wedding. Having a good time. Celebrating. You knew joy, didn't you? When I open a bottle of wine later this evening I will think of you.

I've got tears in my eyes. 

'Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.'

You are my God. You are my God!  

You have given me permission to call you mine. If that's not an amazing thing, I don't know what is.

Dismay is a good word. Makes me think of that facial expression which is a combination of surprise and anxiety and disappointment. I often feel dismayed. When things don't go my way and when I can't control what is happening. When things go wrong. When I get unwelcome news. When I've just turned over to a comfortable spot in bed with a cool bit of pillow and the alarm goes off. No, actually, that's more like horror than dismay - but I'm being flippant. 

Dismay peppers my life, sometimes. Punctuates the sentences of my day, even a good day. Dismay at the bathroom scales, dismay at the weather, dismay at the spilled drink, dismay at the news. Dismay at the trivial and the serious. But you have said that not only are you here, but you are my God, and that should be enough to quell fear and banish dismay. I need to lean on you more heavily, I think. Turn to you, for you are right here, not to friends, or the internet, or food, or anything or anyone else. You are right here. God is here. I don't need to be dismayed.

'I will strengthen you and help you'

I am weak but you are strong. You have strength to spare. You see my weakness and you don't let me fall over and lie still; you give me strength to get me through. You help me. I am not enough on my own, but with you at my side, I cannot lose. I have nothing to fear, not even fear itself, for you are my God and you are nearer than I can dream. 

You understand my problems and you know how I feel. You know my temptation to give up and you know when I run out of whatever it is that I need; courage, patience, determination, strength, resolve, commitment, self control. You are here and you will help me. 

I am never alone. 

'I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.'

The same hand that made the universe and everything in it, that created the first man and woman, the hand that was nailed to a cross, the hand that triumphs in battle - you reach out to hold onto me. You stop me from falling. When my legs go from under me, you are there. 

It gives me a picture of me, leaning heavily on you on a battlefield, injured or exhausted or faint or something, and you, mighty warrior, gently leading me to a safe place. Your righteous right hand. A hand that never makes mistakes. A hand that always does what is right. 

Worthy, honest, righteous. The things I'm not, and yet you reach out to me. 

Lord God, I don't know how many times in the Bible you tell us not to be afraid. (Yes I do; I've just Googled it. Seems that 'Do not fear' or words to that effect are in the Bible around 365 times).

You tell us not to be afraid once for every day in the year. It sounds as if it was a message that you wanted to get through to us. Something that you wanted us to understand. A message that you keep telling me, over and over. Help it to sink in, Lord. 

Help me to remember when I go about my intermittently fearful life that you are here. You are with me. I am your child and you are my God. You will strengthen me and you will uphold me with your righteous right hand. You told me so and you don't lie.

I don't need to be afraid. Help me translate that into my life so that it shows. In a world full of fear and dismay, help me to lean on my God's arm. With you at my side why on earth should I creep through this world apologetically and fearfully? It makes no sense. 

Thankyou for being with me. Help me to be aware of your presence every minute of every day. Every breath that I take may I breathe you in. 

'The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.'

Psalm 118:6

Amen.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Beautiful

Hello, Lord.

I've just read something a friend has written about being beautiful.

Beautiful. Beautiful in your eyes. Accepting of herself, just as she is. 

I feel quite unsettled. 

I know that you love me. I know that you made me, and I know that you don't make mistakes. I know that I am precious to you. Beautiful? 

Sometimes I look in the mirror and if I'm having a good hair day, and I've taken a minute or two to put on some make-up, and the light is right - I think that maybe I'm not too bad. From certain angles. I've often thought about how film stars and actresses are supposed to be fully aware of the most flattering angle to have a picture taken from. The best expression. I know about screen tests and directors advising them on how to look their best on camera. Do I have a best side? I suppose I'm as vain as the next person; on occasion (when I was much younger, though, honestly) I confess that I might have turned this way and that to try to establish if I was nicer looking from one angle or another but I've never really found out. And now as the crows' feet get deeper and the wrinkles set in for the long haul I suspect that this particular ship has sailed.

Now THERE'S beauty.
I don't like the way I look. I can't see beauty when I look in the mirror. I almost never see a picture of me that doesn't make me cringe. I need whiter teeth, to lose a lot of weight. Better posture. More style. Don't get me wrong; I'm so, so much better than I was; so much less self conscious really, but thinking about beauty has woken up some insecurities that I thought I had at least partly put to bed.

I'm not sure that I'm all that beautiful on the inside, either. I know that your light is supposed to shine through me, and I know that on occasion, it does. A bit like a lighthouse, suddenly splitting the darkness, dazzling across the sea - sometimes you fill me with a Spirit that can't be contained and comes spilling out. I am pretty dark, though, most of the time. Lots of dangerous-looking rocks lurking there under the water level. 

Beautiful?

Some time ago a close friend and I went to a Christian lady who did image consultations and advised us on the colours that most suited us and flattered our skin and hair tones. I had only been with her a few minutes and as she talked about beauty I started to cry. I didn't anticipate crying - I was curious about my colours in a girly sort of way and didn't feel intimidated or threatened or anything like that. She spoke about an experience that she had where you told her how beautiful she was. Today my friend wrote about a similar experience. I know that you love me and I know that you don't judge beauty in terms of dress size or wrinkles or stretch marks or cellulite. 

What am I saying? That I'd quite like divine reassurance that you think I'm beautiful? I don't know. That I'd like you to help me get rid of the chip on my shoulder about my size? I don't know. 

I can't help thinking that you made me to be different from the way I am; that like everyone I started out with a body that was just as you wanted it to be but as the years have passed I've neglected to look after it as I should and now I am too heavy with achey hips and furrows in my forehead from too much frowning. It makes me ashamed that I am where I am when things could have been different. Maybe I might have been beautiful if only I'd have followed the Maker's instructions.  My problem is that I like eating and I'm good at it. I've had lots of practice. I don't like exercise. I'm not very good at that. I look at my children with their perfect, beautiful, energetic little bodies and I realise that I started out with the same potential. You blessed me with a body with nothing wrong with it and I messed it up.

I know, I know, it works, for the main part. My body has given birth to two breathtakingly lovely children and fed them for a long time. I can walk and hug my girls and sing to you and think. Over-think, in fact. I know all this and I'm grateful. But...but...

Sigh. 

Beauty on the inside? I worry about that too. I think that sometimes I am full of discontent and selfishness and bad temper and that must show as certainly as a person's happiness and joy and positivity make them glow. 

Listen, I'm tired and I need to go to sleep. I suspect that you're not going to get too much joy and positivity from me tonight. I was at soft play with the children for nearly four hours today and have been nursing a mild headache since early afternoon. I should shut up and put out the light.

Lord, nudge me onto the right track, will you? Either do the miraculous so that I wake up tomorrow a few stone lighter and not so wobbly (I like this option) or help me not to be so critical and self-conscious. Alternatively, help me motivate myself to do something about it. (Again. Sigh.) Or give me a glimpse of me as you see me, if you think that would help. I'm not sure exactly what I'm asking there, so if that's a wholly inappropriate request then please do what is good for me instead. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is it? 

I know that my husband finds me attractive. I know that my friends love me and would reassure me. I just can't believe it. I don't feel it. Does that matter?  Maybe I'm asking the wrong question. Maybe it doesn't matter what I believe. 

All I know is that this thing is a Big Thing for me. How I feel about myself. How the way I feel so embarrassed about myself affects my relationships, my confidence, my self-esteem.  I feel a little tonight as if I've been working on this forever and I've taken steps forward over the past couple of years and recently a few strides backwards. Nothing is too difficult for you, Lord. Help me past this one. 

I would like to be beautiful. 

Not necessarily film star beautiful, but with the sort of beauty that comes from within. I know that's a cliche but I've seen people who have this beauty and it isn't the perfectly-spaced eyes, clear skin, dimple and sensuous pout sort of beauty - it's much harder to describe. It is something good. Something attractive, something charismatic. The sort of person that draws you to them. Someone you want to be with. Someone who has something. Beauty. 

Help me with the self-pity and the self-consciousness and the self-absorption, Lord.  There are children in the world who don't have enough to eat. People who don't have homes to go to when the night is as cold as it is tonight. People who are afraid to speak out loud to you, their God, in case they are arrested and tortured for their faith. And here am I wittering on about wanting to be pretty. 

Sorry.

Take the jumble in my head, Father God, and rearrange it into something that honours you. Take the good desires and do something with them, and help me find a bin for the selfish ones. Help me stop scrutinising myself and look outwards at the wonder and breathtaking gorgeousness of your world. 

And help me stop putting so much butter on my toast and get down to the swimming pool more often. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

In at the deep end

Hello, God of school holidays.

God of small children who hope for excitement and trips out and treats and all manner of wonders.

God of weary and uninspired Mums who try to provide excitement and trips out and treats with enthusiasm and tolerance all the while longing for a coffee and a sit down, perhaps a nap.

God of endlessly kind and patient Grandmas who look after and indulge grand-daughters and daughters alike, finding awe-inspiring reserves of energy to allow children to be children and Mums to find precious moments of peace.

What a trio we made this morning. I took my daughters swimming at the local leisure centre and they were very excited. They love swimming. The trouble is that now that Lizzie is so much more proficient at it she no longer wants to go in the learner pool (smaller, shallower, warmer) and wants to go in the big pool (much bigger, deeper, colder). Katy is still most definitely at a stage where she needs to feel the bottom of the pool under her feet and so I can't cater for them both at the same time. We came to an arrangement where we would all go in the big pool together, in the shallow end, and then after a while, Katy would be delivered to Grandma in the changing rooms and proceed to the viewing gallery when dressed, and Elizabeth and I would investigate the deep end. 

Katy was nervous about being in the big pool.
Lizzie was nervous about going to the deep end.
I was nervous about appearing in public in my new swimming costume. 

We did pretty well.  The water was none too warm and so there was much jumping about and playing in the shallow end and Katy overcame her fear to do some wonderful jumps from the side and didn't hesitate about going under the water. Lizzie swam 100m without stopping and did a couple of jumps from the springboard into the deepest part of the pool. She was so nervous that her knees were wobbling and she got down from the board twice but she did it. And when they made to close the diving boards she hurried to do it again.  I was very proud. 

So much to learn from my children. The way that Elizabeth wouldn't be defeated; she had set herself the challenge of jumping in off the board and she was going to do it. We found out that the criteria for being allowed to use the diving boards was the ability to swim two lengths and so she swam three. She knew she'd be out of her depth but she jumped in anyway. 

Katy too. She couldn't go in the little, warm pool and so she came in the big pool and shivered but smiled and danced and jumped. She put her arms round my neck and let me spin her round and she threw back her head and laughed. She was determined to enjoy herself. She tried out some goggles but they weren't on right and they filled up with water but she didn't complain. She held my hand and jumped in from the side even though the water is much further down from the side than it is in the baby pool. 

I know there's a parable to be had about being out of one's depth but trusting nonetheless but I'm a bit too bleary-eyed to see it right now.  Likewise thoughts to be had about making a splash, or not being able to feel the bottom, or going in headfirst, or waving and drowning, or sinking and swimming....I will ponder all this and get back to you. Is that OK?

My two little girls. Growing up, but still little. Quickly out of their depth in a big, grown up swimming pool but loving the excitement of it. 

Me? I did my best to stay up to my neck in water so nobody would see me.

I reckon there's probably a lesson there too. Hmm.

I like taking my girls swimming. I like the hugs that I get when they hang onto me and I like that they enjoy it so much. The coffee afterwards is good too. 

I like school holidays because the mornings are so much more relaxed. There's no desperate rush to be up, teeth-cleaned, dressed, breakfasted and ready to go before a certain time. On the other hand there's no peaceful solitary walk home from the school gates and no quiet in the house when I get home. I find that my patience runs out by mid afternoon. I love my girls very very much but they have so much energy. They're so loud. They never stop moving. I feel as if I have very little energy, love peace and quiet and long to be still. 

But today was a good day. We had fun. Tomorrow I have another outing planned and craft activities for later in the day. I am in bed nice and early so get a run at the day and with your help I might make it through without running out of all the things I need. Energy, patience, self control, sense of humour, love, love love.

Lord, I'm not sure why I'm telling you all this; you know it anyway. You were with us when I was anxiously treading water and waiting for Lizzie to surface at the pool and you were there when I mopped up Katy's spilled drink. You were there when I snapped at them at bedtime and you were there when I went in to their bedrooms a few moments ago and stroked the hair out of their eyes and kissed them with a promise that I would do better tomorrow. 

Help me do better tomorrow.

Thankyou for all that you gave us today. For laughter and swimming pools and bodies that work, even if, in my case, there is a disconcertingly large number on the swimsuit label where the size should be. Thankyou for keeping my girls safe when they both tried something new. Thankyou for challenges and courage and achievement and joy. 

Thankyou for Grandma and moral support and cups of tea and invaluable reassurance and babysitting. 

I am blessed indeed. 













Friday, 10 February 2012

Conviction and condemnation


'I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."

CS Lewis

Lord, I know where he was coming from when he said this. 

I'm not entirely sure about the port, mind you. I like a glass of port after a meal; at Christmas I was prevailed upon to try blue stilton with my port (as you know, I am not a fan of mouldy cheeses) and I have to say that the port really did make it an exceptional experience. Somehow the strong taste of the cheese and the sweet richness of the port combined to make it very pleasant indeed. Still, I think I am more of a red wine sort of girl. Or a nice demi-sec champagne. 

But that's not the point. 

Discomfort. How much is it of my own making, and how much is healthy discomfort? With regard to what I believe, how much is justifiable and how much inappropriate?  How much of the discomfort around issues to do with faith in my life is down to you, and how much to me?  What things are issues that you are nudging me to resolve, and how much comes from the other guy?

The difference between conviction and guilt, for instance.

The other day my regular devotional email asked me what my daily quiet times were like and suggested that perhaps I should get up earlier in the morning to make sure that I spent time with you. Every fibre of my being shouted 'Nooooo!'  Please be assured that it's not because I don't want to spend time with you; I very much do. It's more that I am not a morning person. Left to myself I would stay up late and get up mid-morning but you know that. It's not particularly compatible with having a family, however. I don't think I ever greet the day with enthusiasm and spring out of bed with energy. It's a grudging leg that slides slowly out from under the duvet after every last bit of 'snooze' has been wrung from my alarm clock. 

But let's not dwell on my lack of sleep. There lies great disgruntlement. And you've heard it all before. Actually, most people of my acquaintance have more information than they needed on the subject of my sleep deficit.

What I'm interested in is that after reading this email with some scepticism, I sent it to a friend who I know has a similar devotion to her pillow with a facetious comment about it not being my desired reading for the day. I know she would have sympathised. What she came back with was a one line suggestion that I should think about whether I was feeling convicted, or guilty.

I believe that you do sometimes convict us. You make us aware that we need to change our behaviour. You point out an area of our lives that needs work. You love us while doing it; mostly you are gentle and understanding, but you are also perfectly righteous and cannot stand and watch us indulgently while we do something that offends you. I also believe that you choose your timing carefully, because if you convicted me all at once of all that is wrong with my life I would shrivel up and expire.  But when the time is right, and you know that we are in a position to do something about it, you might just whisper, 'Ahem. Have a think about what you just did.'

So, how do I know the difference between conviction and guilt?  Do I feel guilty about not finding a quiet time every day? Yes, sometimes.  Do I feel convinced that it should be held first thing in a morning?  No, I don't think so. I hope not. Please, no. I do accept that last thing at night isn't so good. Especially not lying in bed with the light off and covers tucked round my neck. Surely after lunch is good enough?  Or sort of mid-morning? Is there really something special about first thing when I'm clinging to the last vestiges of a warm bed? I'd be interested in hearing your views on this. Well, I think I would. 

I'm getting off the point again. 

I think the difference is that when I feel guilty, I start feeling bad about myself, and negative thoughts crowd in. 

'There's no point in trying to get this right, I'll never do it.'

'If I can't do this, I'm not a very good person.'

'I'm a bit of a failure, really, aren't I?'

...and so on.  Coupled with my constant need to Get It Right, this is guilt for me. I easily feel defeated, which makes trying again so much more difficult. Giving up seems an easier option. Guilt has me focusing on the problem

Conviction is different. Conviction seems to be when I suddenly stop and think to myself, 'Blimey, I should be doing that differently.'  I sometimes feel sad that I got something wrong, but the long, lingering sense of blame isn't there. There's an answer to the problem. When I feel guilty I feel ashamed and heavy. When I feel convicted I feel that I need to be forgiven, yes, but that things aren't ruined forever. I haven't blown it. I'm not the sum of my failures. It isn't a comfortable feeling, as CS Lewis said, but it isn't crushing, defeating, depressing, insidiously demotivating.

Conviction comes with the knowledge that you will forgive me and I can try again. Guilt, on the other hand, discourages me from trying again because I feel too bad about things. 

Guilt comes with condemnation, and conviction comes with forgiveness. With guilt, a door slams shut when there's realisation of wrong, whereas with conviction, the door is open and there's a light shining from the next room.

You said that you came not to condemn the world, but to save it. So if I feel condemned, then I believe it's not you that's doing the condemning. 

But if I realise that I need forgiveness, then I know that you are waiting with open arms and a smile to forgive me and send me out to try again. 

'There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.'

Romans 8:1

And that's me. In you. So there's no condemnation. 

So, do I feel convicted or condemned about early morning quiet times?

If it's all the same to you, I would rather shrug off my feeling of discomfort about the concept that it's necessary to get up ridiculously early in the morning (because in this house to beat the children out of bed and have any peace first thing would mean rising before the birds. That might be a slight exaggeration). I'd rather continue my search for a better time. I confess that my search has not perhaps been relentless and determined. I could probably do better. 

Help me to notice the difference, Lord. Help me not to get dragged down with guilt and anxiety over the many ways that life goes wrong and I need to do things differently. Help me to understand when you are prompting me to come to you and sort something out, and when I am being lied to by the one that the Bible calls the Accuser.  

Help me to understand the difference between conviction and guilt. Help me to be honest and keep a short account with you so that the rubbish doesn't pile up round me so that I can't see over it.

So, quiet times. 

You tell me. I'm listening. I'm bracing myself in readiness for a word from you.

But I'd ask you to remember that I'm not at my best first thing in a morning, and certainly not before my first coffee. You made me that way....

















Thursday, 9 February 2012

In Christ Alone


In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

Amen amen amen. I hope and pray that one day I will sing this and know to my core that it's true.  So many times I scrabble about looking for hope and light in other places but I come back to you every time. How often I fail to recognise that you are the only solid ground - other areas sometimes seem solid but turn out to be quicksand.


You remain firm. You never change. You stay put. You never let me down. You are eternal and everlasting and immutable and all those long words. The only problem is me; sometimes I forget. Sometimes I don't even forget; it's more stupid than that. Sometimes I just stop believing it for some reason and I try something else. I look to people, or to food, or to books for comfort and advice. 


But you are the One who stills fears, who brings peace. I stand in your love.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live



My God, what did you do for me? You gave up glory in Heaven to come and be one of us down here. You ate and laughed and wept and taught and loved and did all the things that you did and then you bled and died. 


As if it were not enough for us to kill you, we mocked you as well. No, we didn't know what we were doing. You were dying for each and every one of us and we either turned away or spat at you. Even your friends ran and hid. Your own mother watched you die. I don't have the capacity to understand fully what you did but the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end every time I sing this verse. 


You were light itself but you allowed the darkness to engulf you. You knew what would happen but you came and loved us and did it anyway. You, who never did anything wrong, who could at any point have called down lightning from heaven to stop the whole thing and prove your deity. 


You did this for me. For me. You love me so much that you would come yourself to do what was necessary to 
bring me home. I can never deserve what you did for me.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ



Jesus died on the cross...but God raised him to life!


I am so thankful that your story doesn't end with your death. Many stories do end like this; someone does something noble, selfless he gave his life for his cause... but only one ends like this. 


You rose from the dead. 


You came to life again. If even death is not the end, there is nothing that can defeat you. And because of your amazing grace and love for me, I can say that death is not the end for me either, nothing can defeat me. There may be many battles but you have won this war. 


You bought me with your blood. You paid the price that needed paying and I am yours. Nothing can stop me from one day being with you, because of what you did. You, the living God, the creator of the universe; you, who can see history from the beginning to the end, the context of everything, the thoughts and dreams and fears of all your children - you made me free. 


'If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.'  
John 8:36


Amen.

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand



Oh Lord God I so want to live this way. You took away my guilt and yet I keep trying to take it back. You banished fear and yet I can't help trying to hang onto it. I am quite sure that the power of Christ is somewhat muted in my life, but each day I am trying to let more of it shine through me. 


I am a work in progress. I know that I'm not finished yet. I know that I'm not what I was. I know that I will be better, and most importantly I know that I am loved just how I am. 


Nothing can separate me from your love. Nothing can prevent me from being with you. I am saved and I am safe. No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from your hand. 


Whether one day - tonight, tomorrow? At the ending of the world? When it's time, when it's all over for me down here I will go home to be with you and see you with my own eyes. What a day that'll be. And then I'll stand in the warmth of your presence surrounded by everyone who has ever loved you through the ages and we'll sing this song until all of creation joins in. 


I can't wait.  


You are my God and I am your child. 








In Christ Alone 
Words and music Stuart Townend & Keith Getty
Copyright 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music





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